New Delhi, 25 July, 1997, 3 Sravana, 1919
Respected Dr. Shanker Dayal Sharmaji,
Hon'ble Prime Minister,
Hon'ble Chief Justice of India,
Hon'ble Ministers and Members of Parliament,
Hon'ble Deputy Chairman, Rajya Sabha,
Hon'ble Deputy Speaker, Lok Sabha,
Excellencies, Ladies & Gentlemen,
To be chosen to the high office of the President of India is an exceptional honour for any Indian. But to be chosen by such an overwhelming number of votes, by such willing consensus among the major political formations of the country, and by such spontaneous goodwill of the people, is for me a benediction and a boon. I wish to express my boundless gratitude to the people of India, to their elected representatives and to the political parties who have reposed their trust and confidence in me.
In doing so they have risen above the barriers of religion, caste, language and region that separate us and reached out to the essential unity underlying this land of immense diversities. That the nation has found a consensus for its highest office in some one who has sprung from the grass-roots of our society and grown up in the dust and heat of this sacred land is symbolic of the fact that the concerns of the common man have now moved to the centre stage of our social and political life. It is this larger significance of my election rather than any personal sense of honour that makes me rejoice on this occasion.
On this historic occasion I recall with reverence and admiration the men of eminence who had preceded me as Heads of State : Shri C. Rajagopalachari, the first Governor-General of free India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the first President of the Republic, and Presidents, Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Dr. Zakir Husain, Shri V.V. Giri, Shri Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, Shri Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy, Giani Zail Singh, Shri R. Venkataraman and Dr. Shanker Dayal Sharma. Each one of them has been an outstanding son of India either as a freedom fighter or as a scholar. Some like Dr. Shanker Dayal Sharma have been both. Dr. Sharma's erudition, administrative experience and political sagacity and his fine sense of the appropriateness of things have stood the nation in good stead in critical moments of its recent history. May I wish him and the gracious First Lady Smt. Vimala Sharma, on behalf of all present here, and on my own behalf, many more years of happiness, good health and useful activity in the service of the people of India.
We are now in the 50th year of our Independence. I could hear the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, whose ambition was to "wipe every tear from every eye", and the founding fathers of our Constitution, who had assured the people of India of "justice, social, economic and political", asking us the question : "Are things better for our people than before?" We could report to them that we have made tremendous progress in all directions since Independence - in food self-sufficiency, in education and in the health of the people and that the country has become a considerable economic and scientific-technological power in the world.
These are substantial achievements. All these have taken place under the framework of democracy and through peaceful democratic means. India can take pride in its democracy which, I dare say, is not only the largest but the most vibrant in the world. It is also a democracy in which secularism, equal reverence of all religions and faiths, is enshrined in the Constitution. Gandhiji used to say that "true democracy is what promotes the welfare of the people". We have, therefore, the obligation to direct all our efforts to the task of abolishing poverty, ignorance and disease from among our people. Excessive obsession with the pursuit of pure politics has often overshadowed the social, economic and developmental needs of the people. Can we not sink our differences, as we have done in critical occasions in our history, even in the recent election of the President of the Republic, and devote our undivided attention, for a time, to the development of the economy and the welfare of the people. The economic reforms we have launched have produced a new dynamism in the economy. In the midst of these reforms we have not neglected the special problems of the masses and the disadvantaged sections of society. It is imperative that we should provide for them an effective social and economic support. The under-privileged sections like the Scheduled Castes and Tribes, the backward classes, the minorities, and the women who alone constitute half of our population, and the poor of every strata of our society, irrespective of religion or caste, must be made to feel the sensation of participation and empowerment.
Indian civilization has had the unique honour of demonstrating to the world that man does not live by bread alone. Cultural, moral and spiritual values have always formed the fundamental underpinning of our society. To-day there are signs of the weakening of the moral and spiritual fibre in our public life with evils of communalism, casteism, violence and corruption bedevilling our society. On January 26, 1948, just a few days before his martyrdom, Gandhiji, at his prayer meeting referred to "the demon of corruption" adding that "indifference in such matters is criminal". Since Gandhiji uttered these prophetic and cautionary words corruption has become widespread, violence has been erupting in almost every walk of life and values we have cherished are being eroded in an alarming manner. In this situation the elders and the leaders in society have the responsibility of setting examples to our youth who today form nearly 60% of our population, lest they become cynical about their own lives and callous about the future of the nation. We must realise that the future destiny of our Nation lies in the hands of our youth.
I have today taken a solemn oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. That Constitution contains the quintessence of the Indian culture and civilization fashioned over the ages. It also contains the more modern conceptions of liberty, equality and fraternity. We owe a debt of gratitude to those known and unknown heroes and heroines whose life long struggle and sacrifices brought us freedom, and to those great personalities who bequeathed to us this Constitution. I should mention the name of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the Chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Constitution, who pleaded with passion for the cause of social justice as much as he pleaded for the freedoms and liberties of the people.
Fellow citizens, India had entertained throughout its history a world vision. Our sages and seers had thought in terms of the happiness of the whole of humanity. And Jawaharlal Nehru had designed a foreign policy for India with a world outlook. We have a role to play in the world and a message to give to the world. We can do that effectively only if we are united and strong and in peace and friendship with our neighbours. As President of India it will be my endeavour to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution in every respect, including the provision that India will "promote international peace and security". Likewise, it will be my privilege as Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces to reflect the nation's pride in the competence and professionalism of our armed forces. By guarding our frontiers it is they who make possible the progress within. I shall endeavour do all these with one goal, one prayer, that India the land of many faiths, languages and cultures may be great, that India may become prosperous sharing its prosperity with all its sons and daughters in the spirit of equality and fraternity, and justice, social, economic and political.